Flavia Agnes

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Flavia Agnes
Born 1947 (age 69–70)
Mumbai, India
Occupation Lawyer, Activist, Author, Lecturer
Nationality Indian

Flavia Agnes is a lawyer with expertise in marital, divorce and property law[1] and has written and published numerous articles, some of which have appeared in the journals Subaltern Studies, Economic and Political Weekly, and Manushi on the themes of minorities and the law, gender and law, and law in the context of women's movements[2] and on issues of domestic violence and feminist jurisprudence. Since 1988, Agnes has been a practising lawyer at the Mumbai High Court. Her own experience with domestic violence inspired her to become a women’s rights lawyer. She also advises the government on law implementation and currently advises the Ministry of Women and Child Development in Maharashtra.[3] Along with Madhushree Dutta, she is the co-founder of Majlis, meaning 'association' in Arabic, "a legal and cultural resource centre[4]" that campaigns for and provides legal representation for women on issues of matrimonial rights, child custody etc. Since inception in 1990, Majlis has given legal services to 50,000 women, many of them destitute and counselled three times as many.[5]

Early life[edit]

Flavia Agnes was born in Mumbai but grew up in Mangalore, Karnataka in a small town called Kadri and lived with her aunt. On the eve of her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams, her aunt died, and Agnes went to Aden, Yemen, and worked as a typist. Her father’s death resulted in the family returning to Mangalore.[6]

She reportedly had a bad marriage and tried for a divorce. The divorce proceedings took much longer. As a Christian, Agnes was not entitled to 'divorce on the grounds of cruelty' under the Christian Marriage Act and had to ask for a judicial separation.[6]


Prior to her marriage, Agnes had only completed her SSC exams. Agnes’ greater involvement in the women’s movement made her want to study further to get gainful employment, live independently and get custody of her children. As a result, Agnes gave the Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women's University (SNDT) entrance exam and completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Sociology with Distinction in 1980.[6]

Agnes went on to complete an LLB in 1988 and began to practise law at the Mumbai High Court. She later completed her LLM from Mumbai University in 1992.[6] She did an M.Phil from National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) in 1997. For her thesis, which was later published by Oxford University Press, she worked on law and gender equality, looking at the politics of personal laws in different religious communities, examining, in particular, what these mean for women.

Subsequent to her M.Phil, Agnes became a guest faculty at NLSIU. She is also a member of the visiting faculty at National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad (NALSAR) and Jindal Global Law School. She continues to be called to universities in India and abroad for guest lectures and panel discussions on issues of legal importance. She has also taught in medical schools.


Death Penalty[edit]

In India, the death penalty is handed out in cases described as "rarest of rare" but Agnes and her team of lawyers at Majlis have been prominent critics of the death penalty and oppose it for all cases. Sometimes their opposition has been controversial as they opposed it for the accused in both the Nirbhaya case and the Shakti Mills case. Agnes talks of a class bias when it comes to convicting rape accused and points out that as per the rules of Section 376E (which allows death penalty for cases of rape) the accused must be "unrepentant repeat offenders". In both the aforementioned cases, that was not the case and according to Agnes, this type of judgement serves to "dilute" the 'rarest of rare' premise. Agnes is also against the concept that rape is worse than death or that a women who is rape is a "zinda laash" (walking dead)[7] pointing out that not only does this concept demean women but if rape is equated with murder, "more women will be killed after they are raped. Even worse, less number of women will report rape, particularly if it is committed by a near and dear one."[8]


  1. ^ "I think I have done pretty well as Flavia Agnes". 5 March 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "Dr. Flavia Agnes to Speak on "Women's Rights and Legal Advocacy in India"". University of Wisconsin-Madison. 3 November 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Chowdhary, Seema. "Indian Lawyer Overcomes Domestic Abuse to Defend Women's Rights". Global Press Journal (24 May 2013). India News Desk. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  4. ^ Vincent, Subramaniam (1 June 2004). "Status of Indian Women's Rights". India Together. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Jaisingani, Bella (20 June 2011). "Once victim overcomes fear, half the battle's won" (Times of India). Bennet, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Times News Network. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Khan, Parizaad (14 August 2009). "Freedom from abuse". Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Tatke, Sukhada (5 April 2014). "Opinions divided on Shakti Mills case". The Hindu. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Agnes, Flavia (5 April 2014). "Why I oppose death penalty for rapists". Mumbai Mirror. Bennet, Coleman & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

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